What is open source?
Open source refers to software or other products that are developed collaboratively and made available to the public with the source code openly available for modification and redistribution. This means that anyone can view, modify, and distribute the code, provided that they adhere to the terms of the license under which it is distributed.
Open-source projects are typically managed by a community of developers who contribute their time and expertise to improve the software. Because the source code is open, these communities collaborate on fixing bugs, adding new features, and improving the overall quality of the product.
A significant portion of the software that powers the web is open source. In fact, some estimates suggest that over 90% of web servers run on open-source software.
Open-source software is used for a wide range of web-related applications, including web browsers, content management systems, e-commerce platforms, web frameworks, and server software.
Some of the most widely used open-source software for web development include the Apache web server, the Nginx web server, the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, PHP, Python, and Ruby programming languages, the React, Angular and Vue.js frontend frameworks, and the WordPress and Drupal content management systems.
What is a content management system?
A content management system (CMS) is a software application that enables users to create, manage, and publish digital content, typically for websites or other online platforms.
CMS software allows users to easily create and edit web pages, add and organize digital media such as images and videos, manage user accounts and permissions, and automate tasks such as publishing and archiving content.
Some popular open source CMS platforms include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, TYPO3, Umbraco, Concrete CMS, django CMS, dotCMS, Strapi and Ghost. These systems offer a range of features and customization options, allowing users to tailor their websites or online platforms to their specific needs.
Why use an open source CMS instead of a proprietary one?
There are several reasons why you might choose to use an open source CMS instead of a proprietary one:
- Ownership: With an open-source CMS you own the code and your data. If you have a website or community built on a proprietary platform, then the larger it gets, the more complicated and expensive it would be to move to a different platform. You might even find yourself to be really locked in to the proprietary platform, with no helpful data export functionality available.
- Cost: Open-source CMSes are often free to use, while proprietary CMSes may require payment for licensing or ongoing support. This is particularly attractive for businesses or individuals who want to minimize costs.
- Flexibility: Open source CMSes are typically highly customizable, with a range of plugins, themes, and extensions available to tailor the platform to specific needs. Proprietary CMSes may be more limited in terms of customization options.
- Community support: Open-source CMSes are often supported by large communities of developers and users who contribute to the platform's development, offer support and advice, and create plugins and extensions. This can provide a valuable source of help and expertise.
- Transparency: The source code for open-source CMSes is openly available, which allows users to review the code and identify any potential security issues. Proprietary CMSes may not offer the same level of transparency.
- Longevity: Open-source CMSes are often developed by communities of users and developers who are invested in the long-term success of the platform. Proprietary CMSes may be subject to changes in ownership or development focus that could impact their longevity.
How to choose the right CMS for your project?
There are several popular open-source content management systems (CMS) available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are the top 3 most-widely-used open source CMS platforms along with their pros and cons.
WordPress is a popular and widely-used open source content management system (CMS), estimated to power approximately 40% of all websites. It offers several advantages for website developers and administrators. Some of the key pros of WordPress include:
- User-friendly: WordPress is known for its ease of use, with a user-friendly interface and simple content creation tools that make it accessible even for users with limited technical expertise.
- Flexibility: WordPress is highly flexible, with a wide range of themes, plugins, and customization options that allow users to create a wide variety of websites, from simple blogs to complex web applications.
- Large community: WordPress has a large and active community of developers and users who contribute to the development and improvement of the platform. This ensures that the software is well-supported and regularly updated with new features and security patches.
- SEO-friendly: WordPress has several built-in tools and features that make it easy to optimize websites for search engines, including customizable permalinks, metadata, and sitemaps.
- Low cost: While there may be some costs associated with hosting, development, or customization work, WordPress itself is free and open source, making it an affordable option for many websites.
While WordPress is a popular and widely-used content management system (CMS), there are also some potential cons to consider:
- Security: Given its extremely large footprint on the web, WordPress is a popular target for hackers and malware, making it potentially vulnerable to security breaches if not properly secured and maintained.
- Customization limitations: While WordPress offers a wide range of customization options, there may be limitations to what can be achieved without advanced technical skills or custom development work.
- Regular updates possibly causing compatibility issues: WordPress requires regular updates to ensure that websites remain secure and up-to-date with the latest features and functionality. However, these updates can sometimes cause compatibility issues or require additional development work.
Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS) that offers several advantages for website developers and administrators. Some of the key pros of Drupal include:
- Flexibility: Drupal offers a high degree of flexibility, with a wide range of customization options for content types, fields, and layouts. This makes it a good choice for websites with complex content or user workflows.
- Scalability: Drupal is a highly scalable platform that can handle large amounts of content and high traffic volumes. This makes it a good choice for large and complex websites.
- Security: Drupal has a strong security track record, with a dedicated security team and regular updates to address vulnerabilities and threats.
- Multilingual support: Drupal has strong multilingual support, making it easy to create websites in multiple languages.
- Community support: Drupal has a large and active community of developers and users who contribute to the development and improvement of the platform. This ensures that the software is well-supported and regularly updated with new features and security patches.
- Accessibility: Drupal has a strong focus on accessibility, with built-in tools and features to ensure that websites are accessible to users with disabilities.
While Drupal is a powerful and flexible content management system, there are also some potential cons to consider:
- Learning curve: Drupal has a steeper learning curve compared to some other CMS platforms, particularly for new users who may not be familiar with its terminology or structure. This can make it more difficult to get started with the platform.
- Complexity: Drupal is a very powerful and flexible platform, but that power comes with added complexity. This can make it more difficult to customize or configure certain features, particularly for users with limited technical expertise.
Joomla is an open source content management system (CMS) that offers several advantages for website developers and administrators. Some of the key advantages of Joomla include:
- Flexibility: Joomla offers a wide range of templates and extensions that allow developers to create custom websites with advanced features and functionality. It is well-suited for small to medium-sized websites, as well as larger web applications.
- User-friendly: Joomla has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for website administrators to manage content, menus, and other website elements. It is also easy to install and configure.
- Customizable: Joomla offers a high degree of customization, allowing developers to create custom modules, plugins, and templates. This makes it possible to tailor websites to the specific needs and requirements of clients.
- Multilingual support: Joomla has strong multilingual support, making it easy to create websites in multiple languages. This is particularly useful for websites that target international audiences.
- Community support: Joomla has a large and active community of developers and users who contribute to the development and improvement of the platform. This ensures that the software is well-supported and regularly updated with new features and security patches.
While Joomla offers many benefits as a content management system, there are also some potential drawbacks or cons to consider:
- Learning curve: While Joomla is relatively user-friendly compared to some other CMS platforms, there is still a learning curve for new users. It may take some time to get familiar with the interface, terminology, and features.
- Complexity: Joomla is a powerful CMS, but that power can also come with added complexity. More advanced customization and functionality may require additional coding or development skills.
- Maintenance: As with any software, Joomla requires ongoing maintenance and updates to stay secure and functional. This may require some technical expertise or regular monitoring to keep up with the latest patches and security fixes.
- Plugin compatibility: Some Joomla plugins or extensions may not be compatible with certain versions of the software, which can cause compatibility issues or conflicts with other plugins.
There you have it! These are just a few examples of popular open source CMS platforms. And just to make things more complicated, a popular trend now is to have a “headless” CMS, meaning that the CMS is used to manage the content while a fully-custom front-end is built with something different; often a platform such as React, Angular or Vue.
Of course the choice of CMS will depend on the specific needs and requirements of the website or web application being developed, but how great is it to have so many people collaborating to provide all of these viable open source options!